After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). He said something similar in what some call his “high priestly prayer” to the Father in John 17: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (v 18). A major theme of this prayer is what Jesus intends to be the mission of his disciples—and by extension, all of his people in this age.
There is something about the Father sending Jesus on a mission that is a model for Christ sending us on a mission, but the question is, in what way? What is the mission that Christ gave to us, and how is it related to his mission?
This is an important question, because some today argue that Jesus’s statement in these two texts means that our mission is the same as Jesus’s mission. Jesus’s mission was to redeem the world, they observe, and therefore our mission is to redeem society. We are to complete the mission Jesus left unfinished, they assume. Similarly, others insist that since Jesus healed the sick and helped the needy, then it is our mission as the church to do the same.
There are several problems with this kind of argument, but the one that I would like to focus on here is that this line of thinking fails to recognize the uniqueness of Christ’s mission. Jesus healed the sick and the blind, but he did so to prove that he was Messiah, not simply for its own sake. Jesus came to redeem the world, but that was unique to him as Savior of the world. We, the church, are never commanded to redeem anything.
Instead, our mission—like Christ’s mission—is to do what we have been uniquely commissioned by Christ to do.
Jesus Completed His Mission
Our mission is certainly not to complete what Jesus somehow left unfinished—in this very prayer, Jesus says that he has accomplished the mission the Father gave him. Jesus prayed to his Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4).
Whatever it was that Jesus was commissioned to do, it is finished.
And Jesus tells us his mission in this very prayer. He summarizes it in verse 2: “to give eternal life to all whom [the Father] have given him.” Christ’s mission was to redeem a people through his perfect life, his sacrifice of atonement, and his victorious resurrection. His mission was to give his people eternal life through redemption by his blood.
But it wasn’t simply redemption for its own sake, as verse 3 explains; it was redemption toward the end that this redeemed people would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ his Son. The purpose of Jesus’s mission was that these redeemed people would have restored communion with God that had been broken by sin, that they would worship and glorify him against whom they rebelled. This, according to Jesus, is the definition of eternal life—communion with God.
Sending Implies Authority
Christ’s mission was to do the work that the Father gave him to do. In other words, Christ’s mission was to obey the Father’s instructions. The Father gave him a specific work, and the Son obeyed. He accomplished his mission by faithfully obeying the Father’s commands.
This is important: sending implies authority. He who is sent must obey the commission of the sender.
This may seem obvious, but let’s not just pass over this. Remember, Jesus is himself fully God; he is one with the Father. The trinity is a huge mystery, but it is significant that the incarnate Christ did not just do whatever he thought was best or wanted to do. He obeyed the Father’s will for him; he accomplished the work that that Father gave him to do.
In John 4:34 he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” In John 5:30 he said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” In John 6:38 he said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was on earth to do what the Father commanded him. And remember, in some way that I don’t pretend to understand, Jesus did not want to go to the cross; he asked the Father to take that cup away from him. But at the end of the day he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
You see, God the Father was not interested in creativity, ingenuity, or clever methods; he was simply interested in his Son obeying his instructions and accomplishing the work he gave him to do.
As . . . Even So
When we shift to consider our mission, then, it is important to ask what the point of comparison is to Christ’s mission. Jesus said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” What is the point of his comparison here between his mission and our mission?
Notice that Jesus did not say, “What I have been sent to do is what you have been sent to do.” No, the point of comparison is not between his mission and our mission, but rather between the fact that the Father sent Christ, and Christ has sent us. The emphasis here is that, just like Jesus was responsible to do what his Father told him to do, so we are responsible, as Christ’s commissioned people, to do what Christ has commanded us to do.
The point of comparison here is not really between Christ’s mission and our mission per se, but rather between the act of sending. Remember, sending implies authority. He who is sent must obey the commission of the sender.
And it is important to recognize that what we have been sent to do by Christ, although certainly related to his mission, is not the same as his mission. His mission is accomplished.
The Mission Jesus Gave Us
Jesus’s prayer in John 17 introduces us to what Christ has sent us to do. In verse 20 he says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Christ has commissioned us to proclaim his Word, to go into all the world and preach the good news of Jesus Christ (Mk 16:14).
Jesus gave more specificity to this mission when, just before his ascension into heaven, he said to his disciples,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matt 28:19–20
Jesus has sent us and given us a very specific, singular mission in this age, best articulated in the Great Commission: “Make disciples” is the mandate Christ gave to us—nothing more and nothing less. We make disciples by faithfully proclaiming the gospel, by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and by “teaching them to observe all that” Christ has commanded.
Furthermore, God’s sufficient Word has given those ordinary means of grace that will accomplish our mission of making disciples who observe everything Jesus taught: reading the Word (1 Tim 4:13), preaching the Word (2 Tim 4:2), singing the Word (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19), prayer (1 Tim 2:1), baptism (Matt 28:19), and the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:23–32). The regular, disciplined use of these means of grace are what the Holy Spirit uses to bring unbelievers to Christ and progressively form believers into the image of Jesus Christ; these Spirit-ordained elements are the means through which Christians obey Christ’s commission to make disciples.
This is our mission as individual Christians, but more importantly, this is the mission of the church. Christ gave this directive to his apostles, and as the foundation of the church, those apostles extend that directive to churches today.
Unfortunately, many churches in our day are distracted by many different programs and events that they say are part of their mission, but that actually draw their attention away from what they are actually commissioned by Christ to do. They may be doing these other things for good motives—they may think that their creativity is actually accomplishing God’s will better than it would otherwise. They might assume that since our cultural situation is so different than that of the first century, then surely we need to come up with ingenious ways to attract unbelievers to the gospel or bring Christians along in their sanctification.
But when Christ said to the early founders of the church, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you,” what he was saying is that as churches, we cannot call something our mission unless it is something that Christ has explicitly commanded us to do.
You see, when we add to that mission, or when we think that we have come up with a newer, better, creative way to please God, we are actually doubting God’s wisdom and sovereignty; we are not submitting to the sufficient Word. We are implying that when Jesus gave us our mission, he didn’t anticipate our situation or culture.
But he did. The mission Jesus has given us is enough, his Word is sufficient, and our responsibility as his body is to accomplish the work he has given us to do through the means he has given us. Let us commit as individual Christians and as churches to obey Christ’s commission to us to make him known by preaching the gospel and to make disciples through the means he has given us in his sufficient Word.